Moments later, he scored the biggest goal of his career and sent his team to the finals with a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.
“How fitting, Jeff Friesen turns the puck over and they tie it up,” said Ken Daneyko, who has played on New Jersey’s two Stanley Cup-winning teams. “We wanted to kill him, but all of a sudden he becomes the hero.”
Friesen’s turnover early in the third period led to Ottawa’s tying goal. His finishing touch with 2:14 left—his third game-winner of the series—put the Devils into the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in four years.
“I couldn’t even describe what that was like,” Friesen said. “It just happened to work out that I got a chance.”
“I made a bad play at their blue line,” Friesen said. “I couldn’t believe it, there was a lot going on in my mind.”
The Devils, champions in 2000 and finalists in 2001, led the series 3-1 before dropping consecutive games for the first time in the postseason. That got the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Senators into a deciding game few thought would occur.
“We weren’t disappointed when we came here for Game 7,” Friesen said.
Grant Marshall got a pass from the left circle between the legs of Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden and onto the stick of Friesen. The goal silenced a frenzied crowd that felt destiny was in their team’s hands.
“We battled back. A great year in there,” Senators goalie Patrick Lalime said. “We showed a lot of character coming back.”
But the Devils are the Eastern Conference champions again. They will face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the Stanley Cup with Game 1 in New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Friesen, traded to New Jersey from Anaheim last summer, also scored the game-winning goals in Games 2 and 4.
It was a bitter ending for the Senators, who overcame bankruptcy, late pay checks and a checkered playoff history in a stirring season.
“Our goal was to go further. It’s starting to hit me now,” Redden said. “It happened so quick.”
Ottawa was the NHL’s top team in the regular season, and seemed poised to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in its 11-year history. The Senators won Game 5 at home, the first time they’ve ever avoided elimination, and they took Game 6 on the road on Wednesday.
Legions of fans, including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, packed the Corel Centre and were sent into a frenzy when Arvedson scored his first playoff goal. It seemed to bode well for the Senators, who were 7-0 when scoring first this postseason and 36-2-3 when leading after 20 minutes.
Before this year, the Senators had never won a playoff series in which they were the higher seed. They dispatched the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers in the first two rounds before meeting the well-rested Devils.
New Jersey was in danger of losing a series it led 3-1 for the first time. Instead, the Devils improved to 5-6 in Game 7s.
Ottawa hoped to be the first Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup finals since Vancouver in 1994. The Senators nearly became the third team to rally and win after trailing 3-1 in the semifinals or later. New Jersey did it to Philadelphia in 2000.
The Senators had the jump from the latter stages of the second period through the first half of the third, when the Senators gave New Jersey its first two power plays 2:24 apart.
New Jersey’s defense nearly did in goaltender Martin Brodeur with six minutes left. Colin White nearly put the puck in his net as he lost control when skating back toward Brodeur. Scott Niedermayer turned it over twice in front, but Brodeur covered.
Langenbrunner tied it 1-1 at 3:52 of the second and then put the Devils in front at 5:46. He was the Devils’ biggest offensive force in their first two rounds against Boston and Tampa Bay—both five-game victories—when he scored seven goals.
“What changed it? They went in tonight,” Langenbrunner said.
Ottawa took a 1-0 lead soon after Lalime stopped Nieuwendyk’s shot off a rebound and extended a New Jersey flurry.
Arvedson, who had 16 goals in the regular season, hadn’t scored in 23 games— dating to March 22.
Nieuwendyk, injured in overtime of Game 6, was back on the ice but only played three shifts before leaving with a hip injury. … Langenbrunner had four two-goal games in the regular season, including one against Anaheim. … The Senators are 0-3 in Game 7s. The previous two were on the road. … New Jersey held a 27-26 shots advantage. Both teams were 0-for-2 on the powerplay.
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